Friday, September 23, 2005

Lovely Rita, Meet Her, Wade

As we stare down the probable track of Hurricane Rita and note that her path could seriously impede the production of future essays, we note a couple of things. There is a sense of disbelief and detachment about her arrival.

We have been watching her since she was a teenager off the Atlantic coast of Florida, wondering whether she would dissipate or apply new energy to her mindless wanderings in the western hemisphere. I emphasize "mindless" lest someone has told you that Katrina and Rita are punishment for prostitution, homosexuality, poverty, being Democratic, Liberalism, or whatever along the Gulf coast. And, to be fair, Rita heading for Houston has nothing whatever to do with Barbara Bush's big, bad mouth.

We, my neighbors and I, have taken what precautions seem reasonable for a place so far inland, and we have watched a seemingly endless parade of evacuees from Houston and Galveston cruise by at $3.09 a gallon, soon to be $3.59, in the hot (98 degree) early autumn heat in Texas. But it has been hard to believe, difficult to personalize, and yet in one's bones there is this numbing fear that things could go from bad to worse in a twinkling.

I cannot help but think of the thousands of poor Black citizens of New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, and hamlets in between. What they did was freeze emotionally and intellectually, and I am experiencing some of that. I watched the corners of shoppers' eyes at the large grocery store yesterday. Bottled water sold out, and there was a grimness about that fact, even this far inland. The victims of Katrina didn't believe and everything in their environment reinforced that paralysis. They stood to lose everything--which wasn't much by American standards--and they just couldn't walk away from their meager belongings to save their prematurely tired and aching bodies.

There has been a lot said and written about the thousands of dead in Katrina's wake, and probably more will be said how the hurricane hitting Texas did not have the same effect. Conclusions will be drawn, but they will miss this essential point: a disaster in the making is hard to see from the inside. Liberals should take note: George barely understands what a disaster his administration has become.

Barbara Bush put both feet in her ample mouth the other day, explaining to the press how the refugees were better off in make-shift corrals of humanity than in their own humble homes. What the hell does she know about these people anyway! Does she have such an Olympian view of things that she can "let them eat cake" whenever she pleases? Of course not, but we know more about George this week thanks to her. But the kicker today was a letter received from Australia.

The internet is a marvelous human creation and you can bet that hot news moves around the world net with incredible speed. The message from Melbourne was complete with good wishes for the victims of Katrina, but attached was a letter purportedly written by Richard L. Johnston, M.D. of Jackson, Mississippi in which the author wrote about the arrogance and rudeness of the evacuees, the refugees. In paragraph after paragraph the author despised the Blacks, libeled the Blacks, disparaged the Blacks, and claimed his volunteer medical services were not appreciated by these "horrible" people.

We noticed that there were some peculiar spellings and odd English grammar in the hate letter, so we we checked on Google and soon learned that others had wondered too. It turns out there is a Richard L. Johnston, M.D. but he did not write the letter. Some jerk picked up his name and attached it to his own screed and sent it along to the world to stoke the coals of racism, to provoke the anger of people who are normally too believing or too lazy to check out their facts, to deepen the fissure that already exists in the American society. Why? Because some people are basically bad, that's why. Maybe they were abused as children, maybe not. They are just bad people ... not worth the trouble to discuss.

In times of turmoil and disaster, it is always a good idea to remember that rumor is usually full of the full spectrum of human frailty and corruption. Use Urban Legends and Hoax Busters to check out suspicious news and assertions. Use Google, too. Bookmark these sites and use them often. When you do find a hoax or a deliberate falsehood, send the evidence to everyone who received it with you.

James Richard Brett